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Back in college, I once had to take a bus to the airport in Indianapolis, a two-hour drive. A fierce snowstorm was brewing, and none of my friends dared drive me themselves. Boarding the Greyhound, I found every seat taken but one…in the very last row in the back, next to a man who made Charles Manson look like a choirboy. Knowing full well that the driver would be concentrating on the storm and would never see my imminent death, I took the seat anyway.
Though I immediately stuck my nose in a book and prayed for anonymity, my seatmate engaged me in conversation. He even introduced me to his friend “Red Dog,” who occupied a seat ahead of us and to the right. (Why weren’t they sitting together?) Turns out, my new friend was on his way to Chicago after a disastrous trip to Las Vegas, during which he was incarcerated for possession of “one little knife.” With these words, he drew a dagger from his boot.
“How unfair,” I hear myself squeak.
That I made it to Indy at all (with Red Dog even gallantly helping with my luggage) is an act I attribute directly to divine intervention.
Yesterday, I saw an article about the number of weapons seized at airports in 2014: an average of six guns a day, with a high of 18 one day in June. Grenades, C-4, landmines. Not to mention the wide panoply of knives and other pointy things. Knives baked into food, knives disguised as markers and canes or slipped into the inner workings of a laptop. Hundreds and hundreds of knives, all knowingly hidden from authorities.
What struck me first was the number of people who openly flouted the rules of air travel. What struck me second was this: why? Were the weapons meant for self-defense or something more nefarious? Why in a nation of people who overwhelmingly believe in God, who claim to be religious, who call out for prayer in school and demand to know on Facebook whether or not I agree that we are one nation “UNDER GOD” — why in the world are we all armed to the teeth?
If we truly are a Christian nation (as some pundits assert — I rather hope we are more diverse than just that), then why do we feel the need to fend off one another, to be ready to attack at will? Jesus never carried a weapon. When confronted with violence, he turned the other cheek, accepted the crown of thorns, carried the cross, let the nails be hammered into his skin. It says very little of Americans that we are so prone to violence, so attached to our weapons of choice that we dare not be parted from them even while we travel by winged metal tube for a few paltry hours.
Violence and the weapons from which violence springs cannot be held in tension with true spirituality and belief in a loving, giving God. The two are incongruous. As St. Paul observed, they will know we are Christians by our love, not by the razor-sharpness of our blade or the caliber of our firearm.
Being Christian means loving others not just as much as we love ourselves, but as much as Christ himself loves them. And that requires a love beyond human bounds, a love that does not discriminate, that does hesitate, that does not demand qualifications. It is the kind of love that makes weapons ludicrous, laughable.
So what gives? Either a large number of us are hypocrites, or we love our weapons more than we love God. And yes, I know that’s an inflammatory statement; I meant it to be. This is a subject that demands serious self-examination. If you believe in the sanctity of gun rights, how do you square that with the perfection of love your faith calls you to? And no, “hunting” is not a sufficient reply. No one’s going hunting at 20,000 feet. (I hope.)
This isn’t chocolate and peanut butter, folks. These are two ideas that don’t go together. So why not put down your weapons? Arm yourself with love instead. I guarantee a better bus ride for all of us.
Funny thing is, until this storm was given a name, it didn’t occur to anyone to stock up on bread and milk. And for me, Entenmann’s donuts. Not sure why I do that; it’s just a snow-day tradition.
As it turns out, in my area, we really didn’t get the blizzard that had been hyped up for the past few days. Probably because I forgot to buy the Entenmann’s!
Isn’t it true that once you label something, it sets in and takes on a life of its own?
On Twitter, a meteorologist named Gary Szatkowski did a mea culpa and apologized to the governor – who shut down the state – for over-hyping the storm. “You made a lot of tough decisions expecting us to get it right, and we didn’t. Once again, I’m sorry.”
The thing is, this is just a man. He doesn’t control space and time, and certainly not the weather. If anything, you could blame “Mother Nature.” Or, if you were really brazen, you might blame God.
But there’s no need to do that. Weather is just a system of energy. So it didn’t hit New York and New Jersey with a vengeance. I guess it just changed its mind!
Are we really disappointed that we didn’t get slammed by an epic storm?
So I say that we all learn a lesson from the blizzard that fizzled. Don’t give it a name unless you want it in your life. And also, don’t hope for things you really don’t want. As I once heard a soldier say, it’s better to dodge the bullet than earn the purple heart.
Just a quick note from SueBE. I’m blogging today at Alive Now. My post is about creativity and faith and my writing. The editors ask me to write this post as an addition to the devotional I wrote for the January/February issue on Loving Oneself. In all honesty, I have all of you to thank for that publication. It was only through my experience here that I was able to write that devotional. Thank you for all of your support and feedback!
The other day, my husband asked me if I knew how late the local barbeque joint was open. I did. Their catchy jingle (telling me not to be late because they close at eight) leapt from my mouth like saliva from one of Pavlov’s pooches. Today I’ve got an online shopping site’s theme song rattling around in my brain. With all the pressing business of my day, I’m stuck jauntily rhyming about home goods. That’s productive. But at least it isn’t the maudlin ‘70s classic “Please Come to Boston” which ran on an endless, depressing loop last night at the aforementioned barbeque joint. They say the only way to replace an earworm is with another. Hey, Brain, job well done!
It’s funny how responsive we are to sensory triggers. There is a certain dusty, fake fir smell that will always say “Christmas” to me, no matter how old I get. Just as Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September” will always take me back to the auditorium at St. Joseph grade school, to the 8th grade dances that were supposed to teach us kids how to socialize.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have those same sensory experiences of God? To be able to call to mind that most intense of relationships through smell or hearing or touch or taste? Our relationship with God is so cerebral, so very out of body. That’s why it was so important that God sent Jesus to us: God’s word made flesh, because flesh, as the great Catholic novelist Mary Gordon reminds us, is lovable. It’s why we hug people we haven’t seen in a long time. There is something priceless about memories forged through the senses.
So why can’t there be an earworm for God? Why can’t I get something pure, something holy, stuck in my brain instead of a second-rate advertisement? Because pure and holy things aren’t blasted at us with the same regularity as second-rate advertisements, that’s why. If only the smell of cinnamon said, “Let go and let God” to me! If only the sight of a bare tree in winter brought Mary’s Magnificat to my lips! How much better would my life be if only I could get in touch with God as readily as I can get in touch with the operating hours of the local barbeque joint?
I did a lot of memorization in Catholic school: the Holy Days of Obligation, the Stations of the Cross. But I still can’t rattle those things off with the same rapidity at which I can recite the lyrics to every single ABBA song ever written. Why is this? Why don’t things of God stick in my mind when so many worthless things do? What’s more, how can I fix this?
Maybe I can’t. Maybe God will always be harder to reach than the jingle for a local business. And maybe that’s the point, the challenge. I need to tune out the earworms to hear God. It will take effort. It will mean disengaging from the sensory triggers all around me, going to a deeper place, a quieter place.
Fortunately, God is worth it. And He never closes at eight.
The other day, a friend said she was going to a therapist because she was feeling stressed and depressed. When she told her boyfriend about it, he said, “okay,” and started to talk about how his day had been.
She was annoyed, as she felt that he should have asked, “What’s going on, honey? Can I do anything to make it better?”
But oftentimes, when men and women talk about a problem, we’re not even speaking the same language.
We’re talking about emotions. They’re thinking about solutions.
In a way, I told my friend, you should take it as a compliment. You told him there’s an issue, and he’s assuming you can handle it, so he’s respecting your ability to deal with it and tackle it head on. He knows that if you need him to do more, you’ll tell him.
But we don’t usually do that. As women, we think, you should know how I feel. You should provide the emotional support that anyone with a heart would know is needed right now. As men, they think, I’m not a mind reader and I won’t do you the disservice of assuming you can’t address your own issues. If you need something else from me, I’ll count on you to put it into words and tell me.
Maybe men really are from Mars, and women from Venus! Sometimes it seems we can’t hear each other at all.
I’m grateful that this language barrier doesn’t apply to our prayers. God not only understands all languages, he can interpret your silence as well. He knows what’s on the heart even if you say nothing at all. He also knows that if you say so much that you’re out of breath, you might be missing the point of grace.
Last night, I prayed in such great detail about what I hoped for my son’s life that I realized something. I can’t ask God to give Cole a customized life according to MY specifications. I have to let that idea go. Sure, I’d like to live in a small town by a lake, but my son would be just as happy in the concrete jungle sitting by the Hudson River. I’d like him to go to college near home, but he’d probably like to branch out on his own out of state and have some independence.
I decided to pray for a life that made him smile every day and sleep like a baby every night. It’s not perfect, but Providence is. So I’ll let my son – and our Silent Partner – fill in the blanks together.
Confession: I’ve never been “big” on shoes. (I picture well-shod women everywhere gasping.) Shoes are utilitarian things to me; as a child, I couldn’t wait for school to be over so I could shed the clunky things. And growing up in sunny Southern California, shoelessness was not only acceptable but common. As a result, I developed a lazy walk, an easy stride, knowing the ground beneath me would always be warm and dry. Then I went off to college in Indiana.
Walking on ice and snow was a disaster for me. I fell constantly, my legs sliding out from under me in a flail of limbs that led to bruised tailbones and broken toes. I simply could not figure out how to navigate slick surfaces. I watched my friends. They walked more deliberately than I did, with a purpose. Growing up in the Midwest had informed their walking style. Dumb little sunbunnies like me were left behind.
Eventually I discovered how to pick my way through snow and ice. I had to, living in Kansas. I make my steps firm, a march-step. To make up for my shorter strides, I tell myself to keep moving. March, march!
So it is in our spiritual lives. When all is going well, we breeze along, shoeless and happy. But when metaphoric snow and ice befall us, we can easily slip and fall. We are not prepared. Sometimes it takes everything in us to keep ourselves marching along.
How can we find traction in perilous spiritual moments? In faith as in walking, it requires mindfulness. We cannot blindly shuffle through our day. Every movement, every moment, must be deliberate, focused on the one who sustains us, who keeps us upright: God.
That is not to say that we don’t need to be mindful when all is well. We should. But when the chips are down and the way gets treacherous, constant reliance on God may be the only thing that can keep us moving. God, help me get out of bed. God, help me at work. God, help me not to break down right now.
In many recovery groups there’s a saying about taking things one day at a time. However, sometimes a day can seem too long. I prefer, at times like these, to think about taking it one STEP at a time. And with every step, keep God in mind. God will carry you through. Now take the next step. March, march!
My teen-age son has really struggled with exhaustion and health issues that have led him to be late for school quite a bit, even missing some days altogether. As you can imagine, mornings in our house can become rather, well… heated.
I ask him to wake up and he tries, but falls back to sleep. I come in again and again, each time with the same result. The bus goes by and I silently seethe. Late again. Yesterday, I blew my top and started yelling. The cat high-tailed it down the hall, ready to flee the danger zone.
Still tight, I went to another room to pray, hoping it would calm me down. I asked for Cole’s Yes Life to begin. Each morning, when I’d go in to wake him, it felt like I was part of the No Life.
Getting stressed, waking him up and being tense at him.
I prayed directly to God. “Lord, I can’t take these mornings anymore,” and I felt in my mind, No More! But on my heart, I saw the words Know More.
And it came to me, clearly.
Know that you can’t “No” your way to “Yes.” You can’t come in and rant to wake up your son and hope he has a good day. This is where the good day has to begin.
I prayed for him to have his Yes Life now: his music and friends and blessings. A life of his choosing. His own path. Every good thing.
And I wondered how long it would be my responsibility to make life work for him. I prayed, “When does a child’s life transition to him? When do they get to decide things for themselves and blaze their own trail using a map of their own making?”
I assume it is when they have the life-skills and work-ethic they need to get a job, pay the bills. Just generally take care of it all. But there’s also something else. Something that lights you up from the inside. Makes life meaningful. Connects you to your community (of musicians, or Christians, or people who like Lego) and lifts your spirits.
For me, it’s my faith and perpetual prayer. For you, it’s the zhoozh that sparks your soul. It’s something everyone must find for themselves.
So for now, I pray for answers and trust the God who posed the question. When there isn’t a clear-cut solution to an ongoing problem, bring as much “yes” as you can to the “no” in your life. Keep pushing on, and you’ll get through it.